- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2002

The nation's 2 million retired feds may be in for some good news: a tax break that would free up money to offset next year's higher health insurance premiums.

The National Association of Retired Federal Employees is lobbying hard for a premium conversion option, which would allow retired feds to pay their health premiums (which can be thousands of dollars each year) with pre-tax dollars. That means they don't count as income and the tax man does not collect on them.

Already available to active-duty feds and many private-sector workers, premium conversion is not available to retirees federal and private sector yet.

NARFE estimates that the typical retired fed would save about $400 per year in taxes, if legislation to extend the benefit to retirees and their survivors passes.

NARFE has made it a "must pass" target and has alerted its members to lobby members of Congress during the August recess.

2003 pay raise

The House-passed Treasury-Postal Service money bill contains language that gives white-collar federal workers the same 4.1 percent increase military personnel will get in January. The difference between the 4.1 percent and the 2.6 percent the president proposed for feds is $1.5 billion.

Putting the pay raise parity language in the Treasury-Postal Service appropriations bill normally makes it vetoproof. So feds are hoping politicians haven't outsmarted themselves this year by loading up the bill with other "riders" that could draw a White House veto.

It's probably safe to budget for the higher pay raise (which could be worth 4.3 percent to Washington-Baltimore area feds), but don't spend it yet.

Outsourcing quotas

The federal government offers more job security than any other major employer in the country. But that would be less true in the future as politicians from both political parties push for increased privatization of government jobs and services.

To keep the outsourcing which took off during the Clinton years from gutting the government, the Treasury appropriations bill has language that would ban competitive outsourcing quotas for agencies.

The legislation would derail the White House/congressional plan to identify and outsource a predetermined percentage of government jobs each year.

The question is: Will the issue be the lightning rod that draws a presidential veto that also will kill the higher federal pay raise? We should have the answer soon.

September 11 holiday

Most federal agencies plan ceremonies observing the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York City. And many feds have heard that the day may be declared a one-time holiday.

Don't count on it.

In the first place, that is the last kind of event that deserves the term "holiday."

That is why we celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday not the anniversary of his murder and why Armistice Day (Nov. 11) is commemorated with a holiday but the attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7) isn't.

White House sources say there is no reason to believe the day will be designated as a time-off holiday.


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